February 2021 Quickie Reviews

FEBRUARY 2021 BREAKDOWN
  •  45 films/series total
  •  19 new classic films
  • 14 re-watches
  • 2 foreign films
  • 2 TV series
  • 1 silent film
  • 1 documentary short

Biggest Disappointment: Page Miss Glory, Wild Mountain Thyme

Best Discovery: The Unsuspected & Captains Courageous

Page Miss Glory (1935) – I really wanted to like this comedy, because I admire Marion Davies. But I’ve found I like her silent films better. The characters in this are rather annoying, Davies and Dick Powell both playing dumb, Pat O’Brien is obnoxious as a con-artist. Mary Astor is completely wasted here.

I Married a Witch (1942) – I’ve seen this a couple of times, and somehow never remember how much fun it is. Veronica Lake is delightful as the witch who gets caught up in her own spell. It may be her best performance.

After Office Hours (1935) – A little bit of comedy fluff made better by the presence of Clark Gable and Constance Bennett. He’s a conniving newspaper editor and she’s his wealthy society reporter who butts heads with him over whether or not a friend of hers is guilty of murder. To be honest, I don’t know that they even have that much chemistry together, but I love them both anyway.

Soldiers Three (1951) – I found this mildly entertaining. Mildly. Since I chose it for David Niven’s presence, I was glad when his character gained more screen time as the film went on. It was fun to see Stewart Granger as a cockney soldier as I’m used to seeing him play more elevated roles.

Band of Angels (1957) – This is often disparaged and in my memory it didn’t seem so bad. Part of the problem is it’s frequent comparison to Gone With the Wind. One can imagine Clark Gable is playing an older version of Rhett Butler here, but with more personal ties to slavery than that other film explores. The big problem with this picture is Yvonne de’Carlo’s casting as the female lead. Her talent is limited and hurts the picture. Sidney Poitier in an early performance as the “adopted son” of Gable’s character adds conflict and interest.

Never Let Me Go (1953) – As beautiful as she is and as much as I admire her, Gene Tierney just doesn’t seem like a good match opposite Clark Gable. The two are star-crossed lovers, an American journalist and a Russian ballerina, in this cross between a romance and then later and adventure story as he tries to rescue her. The best scenes are Gable’s with Richard Hadyn as they go on a sea journey across international boundaries to smuggle their wives out of Russia.

Ladies in Love (1936) – I’ve always loved this early film which shares similarities with another favorite How To Marry A Millionaire. Enough so that I was willing to watch this Youtube copy which is slightly blurry and in which the sound comes and goes. Janet Gaynor is adorable and Constance Bennett gives an understates her role as a gold digger. Loretta Young is the least interesting of the three women who share an apartment.

Misbehaviour (2020) – I’m afraid I’ve never related to the modern feminist movement. However, I’m not unaware of the fight earlier feminists were involved in and respect what they accomplished. This film portrays a group of women who protested at the Miss World 1970 competition in London. With a host of talent including Greg Kinnear as the lecherous Bob Hope, it’s certainly an interesting watch as it explores the attitudes and beliefs of that time.

The Dig (2021) – For a while as a young girl, I dreamed of being an archaeologist, until my parents talked me out of it. So I really enjoyed this movie portraying an historically important dig that occurred prior to WWII. I was really interested by all the politics behind such big discoveries. It’s slower pace gives time to explore themes of loss and immortality. And the excellent cast, including Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and Lily James really make these characters come alive.

Rosita (1923) – This may be one of my favorite Mary Pickford performances. I was beginning to think she was a one note actress, albeit one who was very famous for playing little girls. She gets a chance to show a bit more range here as a street performer who catches the king’s eye in this Lubitsch film (which incidentally doesn’t display much of the “Lubitsch touch”). The restoration of this silent film is excellent.

The Four Feathers (1939) – This story has been adapted for the screen several times, but this version is the most lauded. I can certainly see why. For a classic film featuring a historical story, it feels very modern in its’ presentation. Filming on location in Sudan certainly makes everything feel very real, not to mention it introduces a part of the world that not many have seen. It’s a visually stunning film with a fabulous redemptive plot and lots of adventure.

Any Number Can Play (1949) – A unique Gable film in which he gets to play a loving father and husband while also remaining within his onscreen persona as a gambling house owner. The slower pace and family drama allows Gable to show more emotional depth and he does a good job at it. I’m not a fan of Alexis Smith as his wife. She just seems too bland. But it is nice to see several of Gable’s early co-stars pop up in small parts in this later picture.

The Saxon Charm (1948) – I’m a Robert Montgomery fan and this is one of his I had not yet seen. I found it on Youtube, so the quality wasn’t great, but he does very well as a sly, manipulative theater impresario who’s destructive nature wrecks the lives of those in his orbit.

The Yearling (1946) – I’ve heard great things about this family film over the years and most of them are true. The beautiful scenery alone is worth watching for. I thought the child actor was a little hammy and the cheesy accented dialogue distracted me. Also, Jane Wyman looks years older than her vital husband played by Gregory Peck. But I did love the father son relationship portrayed.

San Francisco (1936) – Clearly, I’m on a Clark Gable kick. I prefer his earlier films where his roguish charm and twinkling eye are more evident. This is always a fun watch, partly for his first pairing with Spencer Tracy and also because it showcases Gable so well. Despite not liking co-star Jeanette MacDonald, the two show good chemistry and the disaster scenes are really well done.

Slightly Dangerous (1943) – I adore Lana Turner and had forgotten  how much she sparkles in this charming comedy. She actually makes co-star Robert Young seem more appealing than I’ve ever seen him. The plot is fun too in that Lana reinvents herself, taking a new identity, but then has to think fast when her old life comes calling in the form of Young.

Merry Wives of Reno (1934) – Meh. I’m not sure why I thought I would like this comedy about three women who head to Reno to divorce their husbands. Maybe it was the cast of Glenda Farrell, Margaret LIndsay and Frank McHugh? Regardless, it was only slightly entertaining and mostly ridiculous and felt longer that the 69 minute running time.

The Keyhole (1933) – I like this little film that is the first pairing of Kay Francis and George Brent. Brent is the detective hired by Francis’ current husband who thinks her clandestine meetings with an ex-husband who is bribing her is actually an affair.  Francis and Brent always played opposite each other well. Brent in particular is smiling and charming.

She’s Got Everything (1937) – I was so pleasantly surprised by the pairing of Ann Southern and Gene Raymond, that I was happy to find another, albeit obscure title, featuring these two. The plot about an heiress who goes broke, gets hired by a wealthy man and the two falling in love is silly and even implausible in the details. But it’s frothy and fun. I’ll be looking for more of Southern and Raymond’s movies together.

East of the River (1940) – Even in his earliest films, John Garfield is dynamic on screen as he is here playing a hoodlum whose girl falls for his saintly adopted brother. Some of the supporting performance as Italian characters felt stereo-typed, but overall this early film of Garfield’s is worth watching.

Ever Since Eve (1937) – I keep trying to like this because I like Marion Davies and Robert Montgomery, but I just don’t. Davies plays ugly, because her beauty keeps getting her in trouble on the job. I’ve found I prefer her in silent films. Montgomery just gets on my nerves as a her newest boss.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939) – Though this film was made for Mickey Rooney, I feel he was too old to play the role. It completely distracted me from really enjoying it. Otherwise, it was my first exposure to Twain’s tale and piqued my interest to experience more of it.

Moonrise (1948) -Isn’t it sad? I’ve read a lot about this film and finally got the chance to watch it and yet days later I struggle to remember the details. Dane Clark stars as a man whose life has been marked by his father’s criminal behavior. I think the movie tries to explore the idea of nature versus nurture with a strong slant towards Clark becoming a criminal because he is treated like one, not because of any inherited tendencies. However, I saw him in a similar role last month in Deep Valley, a picture which I find much more compelling.

We Were Strangers (1949) – This was a wash for me. It tries to tell the story of the Cuban rebels who plotted against their government in the thirties. As usual, John Garfield shows compelling intensity as a returned emigre leading the plot. But Jennifer Jones almost ruins this for me. I’m not a fan of hers to begin with, and find her rather wooden here.

Johnny Eager (1941) – The film that really put Robert Taylor on the map as a selfish gangster who somehow inspires the love and loyalty of his right hand man and his nemesis’ daughter. Van Heflin is fabulous as his best friend with a conscience and Lana Turner is gorgeous as always.

The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933) – Real life boxer Max Baer stars in this film about a boxer’s career rise and marriage to a former moll.  He’s not terrible, but he’s certainly not talented enough to play a lead. Myrna Loy is adorable as his devoted wife.  In fact, it may be one of my favorite of her performances outside of her pairing with William Powell.

Gentleman’s Fate (1931) – I’ll watch anything with John Gilbert and this proves it. The plot had good potential. Gilbert’s character is a wealthy gentlemen who learns his real family are Italian gangsters. The pacing of this picture is terrible. Too many long shots of people just looking at each other.  It feel like it moves in slow motion. It’s too bad, because I think I would have liked it otherwise.

Princess O’Roarke (1943) – I enjoyed re-visiting this reverse Cinderella tale in which an average American pilot falls for a European princess in disguise. Robert Cummings and Olivia de’Havilland play well off each other, but it’s the secondary relationship between Jack Carson and Jane Wyman that is inspiring.

The Long Song Series (2018) -This mini-series offers a fresh perspective on slavery set in 1830’s Jamaica. It depicts the uprising which resulted in them gaining their freedom and the aftermath of how that freedom was applied. It was very interesting to see how very little really changed, because those in authority didn’t change and continued to abuse their positions. My only real complaint is that the ending feels rushed as it skips over decades of the protagonist’s life only to show her final years. But this is one which has stayed with me and left me much to ponder.

The Feminine Touch (1941) -It’s a bit disconcerting to see Rosalind Russell play dumb and silly for a role but she does well at that like everything else. She has a gift for physical comedy which is highlighted in this rom-com with a love square. Don Ameche, Van Johnson and Kay Francis join her to make this an amusing film.

The Unsuspected (1947) – This crime mystery took me by surprise in the best way and kept me guessing. The great Claude Rains gives a great performance as a radio host who reads true crime stories over the air only to find himself mixed up in one in his own home. The sets and camera shots are excellent and the plot kept me intrigued. The last 20 minutes had me biting my nails, although I do think the last thirty seconds were unnecessary and threw off the impact of the ending a bit.

Captains Courageous (1937) – A stellar cast, including Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Mickey Rooney and Lionel Barrymore, make this adventure tale and character story by Rudyard Kipling mesmerizing. I felt like I was living on the fishing ship with the rest of them experiencing the life of a deep sea fisherman myself.  Utterly transporting.

Sylvie’s Love (2020) – Recommended by my friends over at The Silver Petticoat Review, this period drama is unabashedly romantic. With a slow tempo that matches it’s jazz score, it is one worth taking the time to watch. The mid-century sets and wardrobe compliment this love story that plays out over several years and other relationships. Check out my friends’ review to find out what makes this one so great.

Squared Love (2021) – A selfish, vain male model falls for a female model and her down to earth alter ego, not realizing they are the same woman. My first experience with a Polish film, this rom-com had great potential. I hate when potential is wasted. I’m not sure if it’s the plot or the performances are shallow. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t offer anything of value either.

Roughly Speaking (1945) – The more I see Rosalind Russell, the more I respect her. Here she gets to play a matriarch over the course of decades. She’s wonderful, as is her co-star Jack Carson. However, the film run time is long and starts to feel a bit repetitive as they keep running into failure after failure. A little editing may have kept me more interested.

Make Your Own Bed (1944) – Jane Wyman and Jack Carson were paired together often and made a good screen team. Maybe this just caught me at the wrong time, but I just couldn’t get into this comedy where the two of them pretend to be a maid and butler, so that he can secretly investigate a (false) plot against their employer. I got annoyed at how clueless and dumb their characters acted.

A Five Star Life (2013) – Playing more like a travelogue, than a film with a plot, this Italian picture portrays a middle aged woman’s job as an inspector of high-end hotels. While the locations are gorgeous, the story felt a bit flat as it explores her mini mid-life crisis.

Wild Mountain Thyme (2020) – A very quirky film, with some very unique characters, this has a beautiful Irish country side setting which occasionally reminded me of The Quiet Man.  The story itself about a woman in love with her neighbor, who doesn’t seem to notice ,dragged on for too long. Plus the utter lack of interest (and the eventually revealed reason for it) from the hero made me question the heroine’s sanity. But it’s definitely memorable in it’s oddness.

Flowing Gold (1940) – The setting for this John Garfield vehicle is a bit out of his oeuvre, but not his character. I found the deep dive into oil drilling fascinating, since I grew up in an area of Texas steeped in the tradition. So, seeing the operational side of it was very educational. Though Garfield still plays a maligned outsider, he also gets a chance to show a lighter teasing side that I really enjoyed seeing. Supporting performances by Pat O’Brien and Frances Farmer in a love triangle really add interest. Though it is the first time I’ve noticed this film being aired, I will watch it again, the next time it comes on.

The Sea Hawk (1940) – I put off watching this sea-faring adventure due to it’s longer run time, but it turned out to be entertaining and fun. Errol Flynn is charming as usual as a mischievous privateer who secretly works for Queen Elizabeth harrying the Spanish fleet. The addition of a pet monkey had me laughing a couple of times too.

Joy of Living (1938) – I always want to like this Irene Dunne comedy better than I do. Douglas Fairbanks Jr is charming as an admirer who attempts to break her free of her workaholic ways and her dependent relations, but he’s no match for her talent. Her family is so obnoxious, that it was hard to sit through their scenes. And though Dunne is a talented singer, there were way too many scenes featuring her voice instead of her acting. Still, this film shines in the moments it’s just the two of them out having fun together.

The Age of Adaline (2015) – This is a personal favorite that I always love re-visiting. I wouldn’t call Blake Lively a talented actress, but this role suits her. The settings and costuming are on point. And then there’s her leading man played by Michiel Huisman who just turns me into a puddle of goo.

The Awful Truth (1937) – One of the earlier successes of the divorce-remarriage comedies, the first time casting of Cary Grant with Irene Dunne make this one a true winner. I find something new to appreciate every time. This time, I noticed how much acting the two do in body language and facial expressions which manage to convey even more than dialogue does.

What’s Up Doc? (1972) – For years I ignored this homage to the screwball comedies of classic film merely because of when it was filmed. I’m not a fan of the 70’s. Now, it’s one of my favorites and I find myself laughing in anticipation of what will happen. It’s outrageous and fun.

Miss Scarlet and the Duke (2020) – The long wait for this Victorian series featuring an amateur female detective was worth it. The set up reminds me a lot of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, albeit in a different time and with a different tone. Stuart Martin is everything in the role of the Duke. Kate Phillips casting took longer to grow on me. But I love her character’s strength and tenacity which is more than a match for her Scotland Yard counterpart Duke. I wish there had been a few more scenes showing softness between them, as they act more like a couple of elks locked into a death battle for most of the series. But there is a glimmer of light for them at the end which makes me excited for a second season.

Hello Girls (2018) – This short documentary was a great introduction to the women who served the military in WWI as telephone operators. Their service was essential, but underappreciated once they returned home from the war. Though the documentary does a good job describing their fight for recognition in the decades after their service, I would have preferred to learn more about their experiences during the war. So in that aspect, I was disappointed.

DNF -The Angry Hills, Rebel

Feature image is from The Unsuspected.

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